Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plastic City

Anthony Wong in Brazil!
USS Iwo Jima docks in Costa Rica!
"24 City" director Yu Lik-wai rips some pages out of the Latin-American Surrealists playbook!

Buckle up, this will be a long one.

This alleged review is a tale of the end game of Capitalism, the shattering of Libertarian Idealism at the hands of reality, all in the service of a movie steeped and delivered in plasma blasted super saturated imagery...

Yes, I'm an ex-libertarian. Yes, I do believe the end result of one world not nation-states or transnats, where we all get the stakes of our actions, and work to help each other is a worthy goal. My time in the 3rd world, brief as it has been, has shown me just how far off we are, and how difficult the transition is going to be.

San Jose, Costa Rica on foot is a terrific experience. The spouse and I walked up and down busy crowded streets passed dozens of shops selling the latest in Chinese....everything. Granada had a multi block open air market selling used books from the United States, used Clothing from the United States, cheap electronics, counterfeit fashion and footware as well as local fruits and vegetables.

Managua Nicaragua has 2 large markets, miles of tin and plastic covered stalls, selling everything from dried herbs to cologne, and toys from a decade ago. These markets are jammed with buyers and sellers, and, in these economic times, mostly sellers.

Sao Paolo, Brazil is apparently much like the Central American cities I mention. The spouse informs me that Sao Paolo has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world. Yu Lik-wai films a fantastic and diverse multi-ethnic street scene, bustling with races, colors and languages.

This relates to the movie very directly: Anthony Wong traveled to Paraguay via Brazil from China to set up a counterfeit goods distribution center. 20 years into it he has an adopted Japanese son, a small empire centered in Sao Paolo, and political connections aplenty. Along comes FTAA.

With that as the bare thread of a plot, one can extrapolate where the tale goes, but one might not anticipate some truly startling parkour along the way and the first "rooftop" fight scene to approach what Wimmer did in Ultraviolet with Milla against the Blood-Chinois.

The soundtrack is minimal glitch ambient, mutated sound field recordings with snatches of 70's Funk, J-pop and Arabica grating up against digital feedback and distortion. Heavy, appropriated and appropriate. The mix of Portuguese, Cantonese and English as the spoken languages was a terrific stab at authenticity, regardless of the speaker's actual skill-level.

I've mentioned the surreal sequences already, but the camera is not to be missed. Surreal doesn't mean hectic, doesn't mean hyperactive, but does mean colorful. These seem to be mostly film and camera rather than digital manipulation, which lends an organic quality to every frame.

This film is so much more than a gangster movie, so much more than a political film. One only has to have seen a single Anthony Wong film to know that a film like this has to brim with soul.

A friend once dated a Korean woman who told him Korea's relationship with the United States was like having a Tiger in the kitchen, one felt safe but hoped the Tiger never got angry.

I wonder what the White Tiger that appears in Plastic City symbolizes...


Monday, August 30, 2010

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer

I have a theory about movie titles, (don't we all) buttressed by my time at the Digital Shelf, that posits: some titles can sink a perfectly great film. Two quick examples: "Sexy Beast" and "Dirty, Pretty Things". Both fantastic films, neither remotely erotic or sleazy, but who wants to come home and say, "Honey, I picked out a great film for us tonight, "Sexy Beast!". Those film titles are fine for their films, just make the selection difficult in a world of easy choices...

The Ghost Writer title has a different problem, though it is a perfect title, and the movie itself fits the title on at least 3 levels, but it is so generic I added the "Polanski" to the review title. His association with the project brings all kinds of unrelated baggage from the "know the man, know the work" and the "the work should stand apart from the man" camps, but this is a blog, not a thesis.

Roman Polanski, like Woody Allen, can't just make a movie anymore, but they can't not make a film, either. They both have too much to say, too much craft, to stop. We should be thankful. This review is about "The Ghost Writer", but feel free to apply it all to Woody Allen's superb "Whatever Works".

The Ghost Writer stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan as ghost and subject respectively. Pierce Brosnan will always get the Bond reference, but Tailor of Panama, Matador, and now Ghost Writer demonstrate that the brand can be extended into new territory...a great performance. Ewan Mcgregor isn't Tom Hanks, but to drive across continents with Charlie Boorman, snare Cameron Diaz and train Darth Vader bespeaks an everyman as everyman as Forrest Gump and Jim Lovell.

Ghost Writer is set largely in the ghost town of Martha's Vineyard in the wintertime. The modern architecture of the summer cottage with the bold but cold lines of the modern art that be-spectacle every grey surface, the slate gray sanded beaches and grey  clouded skies, and the shiny black rain splotched BMWs speak volumes to the ghosts(and spooks) in and around this film.

The Ghost Writer is as thoughtfully paced and shot as the other "thriller of the summer", The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Both films bring a decidedly cerebral and European feel to the cineplex, and expect the audience to keep up. The rewards for doing so last a lot longer than the bon mots  the new breed of romcom, sitcom and superhero fare deliver.

I do think TV pacing and dialog rhythm have intruded as far as should be warranted into the movie format. Tv is not Cinema. I want my films, and I want them on the big screen, shot by masters or upstarts, but with passion, not accountants, calling the shots.

Stay tuned for reviews of "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro" by Coppola,  but never fear that I've gone to the darkside. B13U and Ong Bak 3 still play on the ol' video shuffle(oh wait, that tech isn't here yet)...

Meanwhile track down "The Ghost Writer" and feel like you've eaten at a restaurant instead of a drive-thru.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Move over Danny Boyle, Fernando Meirelles has joined you in the winners circle of modern "Lord of the Flies" movies with this fantastic piece of work, "Blindness". Mr Meirelles caught our attention several years ago with "City of God", and cemented his reputation as a director with vision with his outstanding adaptation of Le Carre's "Constant Gardener".
"Blindness" is the hat-trick (omg, a sports reference) film, starring some heavyweights like the new Hulk, Mark Ruffalo (as Mike Dukakis) [yes, arcane ref, but after the film{you do rush out and watch my recs!}check back and nod to yo'self in understanding], Julianne Moore and (since we are working in 3s) Danny Glover, that elevates Meirelles work into must see territory. Both Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo reach deep and pull off fantastic, daring performances.
The camera is sure, the editing and pacing spot on, and the music just right. We knew all that from the "Constant Gardener", of course, but, since this film is only his 3rd to hit these shores I feel compelled to mention. Like Danny Boyle and Robert Rodriguez and heck, even Ang Lee, Fernando Meirelles trusts his audience to keep up with his innovative storytelling shorthand, trusts us to connect the dots.
This is not a happy film, and apparently on theatrical release, made a few groups -- notably some of the blind -- downright angry. Well, the Catholic Church protested the Exorcist too. I am guessing this is why I just found this film, or maybe it was living in a country with the closest movie theater 4 hours away by bus and boat, but who knows? This film no more slurs the blind than the Exorcist, a very pro-faith film imho, did Catholicism.
This one is not to be missed, and you can bring the SO, but not on a first date!
Please note, the lack of synoptic detail is deliberate, I am 100% glad I did not read the reviews I read - post viewing - prior. This movie-goer grows frustrated with spoilers on the back of boxes, in trailers and most especially in reviews that treat us as if we have never seen a film before.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blood and Bone

Blood and Bone is an English language street fighting Martial Arts movie.

Anyone left?
Ok, you fans of Bloodsport and Lionheart, gather round for the no hecticam, no flash edits, no wire 7 black belt holding Michael J White battle(s) royale.  He is a pleasure to watch, the embodiment of power and grace in the over the top flash of the LA street-fighting scene. This scene is, apparently, the proving grounds for the "international underground fight scene" run by the nefarious and largely invisible "Consortium".
Besides the fighting and moralizing there is the Genghis Khan center filtered through the screen burning Eammon Walker, who is also a fan of Wang Chung. Mr Walker commands the screen without taking his shirt off, though he does bare his sword.
What sets this film above the usual suspects is the subtle application of restraint in the tropes. The crowd is not filled with society women in finery savoring blood spatters off of their cleavage. The mixed races of LA are authentic, the stakes are in the hundreds not thousands and millions, at least at the beginning.
The slow burn of the plot is punctuated by the ratcheting up of the skill level of Mr White's opponents, the replacement of the rims on his promoter's car, and flashbacks to the prison he just left. What's not to like about a chess playing Tai Chi master?
The climax of the film is all too brief, and betrays the careful pacing of the rest of the film, but is not a dealkiller. Did I notice Zoe Bell in the credits :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Once A Gangster

Jordan Chan as Roast Pork.
Alex Fong as Kerosene
Candice Yu as Lady Pearl
1990s translation goofiness or could it be...satire!
Yes, this is in fact the second review in 2 days that is about comedy and restaurants. This one has Kung Fu though, and the spouse loved it. All that chop-socky I've force fed her paid off in spades as this film riffs hard on legendary films, directors and stars.
These are not the soft chuckles of Soul Kitchen, but full throated laughs as the Departed/Infernal Affairs "cast" goes from arm to arm and the arguments of which right arm the cast was on escalate...
I suppose the caveat is if you have never seen a Johnnie To film, The Departed, any of the 11 or so films in the Young and Dangerous series this might not be the film to start with. With that in mind I would be hard pressed to find as sharp a satire on this side of the Pacific that has the original stars lampooning themselves.
Yep. Asian comedy without Stephen Chow. Who'd a thunk it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Soul Kitchen

A few things we need to make clear, for the new peeps: I own a restaurant that has just closed, I don't care for comedies, and I don't mind subtitles.
Soul Kitchen is a subtitled romcom, and I loved it.
Still here? Think I've gone soft?
It is macht nichts if you haven't started the insane journey into the food biz or spent 18 months in the superfine country of Germany, where "Soul Kitchen" takes place, these things just got this film in the narrow door of movies I'll actually watch. Yes, even a comedy. You are right. My wife has seen enough Kung Fu...
The movie starts off quick with a typical improvised solution to an unintended crisis. We meet the crew, the girl, the con brother (don't tell anyone) and the customers. It never slows down. We follow the Greek wheel the Greek lead is riding (you know the one you learned about in comp 101[composition, not computers]) with the usual mix of dread and hope.
Nodded my head to the minimal techno, tapped out of time to the funky soul, laughed and pointed at the prep and kitchen insider stuff. Loved the knife wielding chef with the mystery bark, and smiled the whole movie through to the credits.
This is light life affirming stuff, the plot stress is catch and release, the heartbreaks heartfelt but resolved and at the end of it I didn't have any speeches, just a broken heart for my broken dream.